The Edmonton Oilers’ goaltending problems won’t be solved with a rental, and recent years have shown that the team, and goaltending especially, need to get younger. Ideally, they would be able to draft and develop talent that would take over and become viable starters for them. With the talent they have on the rest of the team, they only need better than average to succeed, but have failed to even get that.
The Oilers do have a few young goaltenders in their system, but it remains to be seen whether any of them can live up to a starting role in the NHL. Stuart Skinner is the furthest along, but despite providing the best stats among the Oilers’ goaltenders, he’s still young, unproven, and needs time to break into the NHL instead of being tossed into the fire.
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There are a number of young goaltenders stuck behind a more experienced or better netminder on other teams that will be looking to break out on their own and into the spotlight of a starter. Some of the teams won’t be able to keep them around, even though some may want to. This is the next wave of young and talented goaltenders that will be impactful on teams in the very near future, so the Oilers should take advantage of the possible availability and address their needs for the present and future.
The first of the five possible up-and-coming goaltenders the Oilers should have their sights set on is Ville Husso from the St. Louis Blues. The Blues are in an interesting spot as they have Jordan Binnington signed for $6 million AAV (average annual value) for five more seasons after this one. He has regressed each season since he entered the league in 2018-19 to take the Blues to the Stanley Cup. They are a very competitive team, but he’s started just 52 percent of the games.
That’s where Husso comes in. He’s started five of the past six games and has won four of them. He sports a 9-3-1 record with a 1.90 goals-against average (GAA), .941 save percentage (SV%), and two shutouts. Husso is on the last year of his deal that pays him $750k, very team-friendly for the numbers he’s put up this season. The thing is, the Blues don’t have much money to extend Husso after this season and have a starting goaltender locked up for five more years. Either they hang on to him in the hopes he is a big factor in pushing the team to competing for a Cup and lose him in free agency, or they trade him before the deadline and hope that Binnington can step his game up and take them all the way again.
Husso made a big jump from last season to this season, so it would be a gamble to bet he’s now capable of being a starting goaltender. But it’s better to bank on young players than it is to overpay veterans. Acquiring Husso mid-season could help the Oilers at least get into the playoffs and get a look at how he does in Edmonton. But if nothing can get done, he will be asking for a pay raise on his new contract and the Oilers should be the top team in on him in free agency.
The Oilers should continue to circle back on Jeremy Swayman, as he was the odd man out when Tuukka Rask signed a one-year deal with the Boston Bruins. The key here is that the Rask signing was only for one year, so the future still remains open for interpretation. Rask hasn’t looked the sharpest since his return, but that’s expected from someone who’s got little training in while recovering from surgery. It’s tough to be thrown right into game action, especially as a goaltender. There is a lot of confidence that their franchise goalie for the past 12-plus seasons will return to form soon.
On top of that, the Bruins have Linus Ullmark, who they signed to a four-year deal in free agency this past summer and has a 16-team no-trade list. He is a solid number one, and with the progression on Swayman, each of them will want the starting role. The question is if the Bruins will be able to afford both or are they willing to part with Swayman to bolster their forwards and defence who has been a larger problem this season?
Despite a 2.31 GAA and .916 SV% with two shutouts this season, Swayman was sent down to the American Hockey League (AHL) because he is still on his entry-level contract for this season and next. He expressed disappointment with the demotion, so keep that in mind. The price will be pretty significant to take Swayman from the Bruins but looks like it will be worth it. The Oilers will also have that extra year to allow the cap space to sign him once he is set for a raise. At only 23 years old, he could solve the Oilers’ goaltending woes for years to come.
Kaapo Kahkonen vastly improved his game from last season, really competing for the starting job on the Minnesota Wild. They also have Cam Talbot though, who’s generally been solid for the team since arriving in Minnesota. His numbers are just a bit worse from last season but have heavily been affected by two consecutive games at the end of January where he allowed six goals. Other than that, a .910 SV% isn’t horrible. Talbot is still under contract for next season at the cap hit of $3.67 million, not overly expensive.
What would make Kahkonen a tough one to pull from the Wild is the team will be able to sign him to a bridge deal of sorts and not have to pay both their goaltenders too much money. The pay increase won’t be too significant from the $725k he’s making right now. Probably a few million extra but not more than Talbot. Kahkonen is a restricted free agent (RFA) after this season, so it’s more appealing to acquire from an Oilers standpoint.
Another way of looking at the Wild’s situation is how long does it take for Jesper Wallstedt to arrive and make an impact. That could either affect the future of Talbot or Kahkonen, and Talbot would be a solid veteran presence to learn under. Kahkonen’s 2.53 GAA and .922 SV% may be inflated on a very good team, but he’s still played very well this season. At the age of 25, he should just be starting to come into his own.
Alexandar Georgiev may be the goaltender the Oilers have been linked to the most from this list. It’s been known that he is looking to become a starter, and on a team with Igor Shesterkin, that’s not going to happen on the New York Rangers. The Oilers become a likely landing spot for Georgiev and can acquire him before the deadline as the Rangers would be wise to possibly add a veteran presence behind Shesterkin instead.
The Rangers know they have an interest in Georgiev, and despite a couple of poor starts recently, he is able to at least split time in goal with another goaltender in the same boat. For the Oilers this season and next, that would be with either Smith or Skinner, as Koskinen is almost definitely on his way out if the Oilers are going to upgrade in any capacity.
You can’t completely fault Georgiev for his play this season. He is being compared to Shesterkin, who single-handedly won the Rangers many games and should even be in the conversation for the Hart Trophy. The Rangers’ defence is young and inexperienced, so more mistakes will happen. The Oilers, despite the criticism, have at least an average defensive group with more veteran leadership. This may allow Georgiev to turn over a new leaf and really step up.
The Washington Capitals have an interesting situation in goal. Both of their goaltenders have had their moments of playing well and poorly this season, and the team as a whole hasn’t played well in front of them lately either. Both Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov are RFAs after this season. Both are due for a pay raise, and with all the money locked up in their veteran skaters and many players signed through 2022-23 and beyond, it remains to be seen how much money the Capitals are willing to allot to their goaltending.
It’s well known that the Capitals are higher on Samsonov, as he’s younger and they protected him in the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft. Though they elected to acquire Vanecek back from the Kraken for a second-round pick, it shows which goaltender is the future in Washington.
A big development is the interest that has been reported in Marc-Andre Fleury from the Capitals which makes sense to add a very capable veteran presence back to the crease for multiple reasons. Fleury is a proven goalie and one of the best to ever do it. With the years ticking down for the core of the Capitals, they may try and go for it in a Hart-caliber year for Alex Ovechkin as one of the last kicks at the can. The other reason is the pressure taken off of Samsonov, as he was stellar under Braden Holtby a couple of years ago.
This will likely see Vanecek the odd man out and be traded. At his low cap hit of $717k, he is very affordable and likely would cost less than a second to acquire mid-season. His 2.35 GAA, .916 SV% and two shutouts are very likeable, and if the Capitals don’t want to part ways with the 26-year-old, Samsonov is right there as well.
Though it might seem appealing to aim for the best targets out there, they are mostly rentals and quick fixes if that. It won’t help the Oilers in the long run, and this team will only get better as the prospects they have in their system develop, so the goaltending should be entering their prime at the same time.